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What makes a console next-gen?

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Ok so before I start, and for full disclosure, I'm an XBox One owner in this generation. Last generation I bought (and still own) a 360, a PS3 and a Wii, so I'm in no way a fanboy to any of the consoles. Although no doubt I'll still get called one as I own an XBox One! I've owned the XB1 for almost 2 months now and wanted to share my thoughts on what I feel makes the difference between the current generation and the last generation. Obviously my slant is going to be Microsoft heavy as this is what I own, and I don't feel that it's fair to talk about Sony when I don't own a PS4, although some of the points here do apply to both manufacturers.


The obvious biggest battle is once again between Sony and Microsoft. And as things stand at the moment, Sony seem to have the headstart in terms of console sales. Sales rates on both systems are continuing to surpass the last generation with healthy sales on both consoles and games. There are obvious differences in price here, but then there are obvious differences in what comes in the box. 


I wasn't a big fan when Microsoft announced that they were bundling Kinect, and the obvious price impact that this would have on their console. Looking at it now, would I miss the Kinect if it wasn't there? No, not at all. However it kind of makes sense. It gives all developers a level playing field in terms of what they are developing for. In the last generation, it became a frustration that some games required Kinect, and I didn't own one (as I didn't have the space in my gaming room to make Kinect a sensible option). Microsoft have learnt from these frustrations (and presumably more frustration was voiced by the developers and publishers) and has decided to push these out with every console from the get-go. This means that as a set of hardware, all developers know what they are dealing with, and can integrate as far as they want to. This is the same with SamrtGlass, with developers able to pick and choose what they push out to SmartGlass devices.


In terms of the big players in the console war, it's very obvious from the technical specifications that the PS4 has more power under the hood that the XB1. Of course it is all about what you do with the power rather than the raw power itself, and that comes down to development tools. But in terms of the outputs, yes PS4 has a bit of a head start here, and so the old argument around outputting at 1080p always comes to the fore. A friend of mine is in a senior development position at a very major development house, and his take is quite simple. Microsoft have the ability to patch in 1080p upscaling to their hardware, so why take the extra effort now to code at 1080p when Microsoft will effectively save them time with the tools and let the software cope with it later? An interesting point, and rumours are now surfacing that, with the patch that is coming prior to the Titanfall release, that Microsoft will have this patch in place on March 11th, ready to have Titanfall running at 1080p. If this is true then suddenly things become a little more equal. PS4 will still have the power under the hood, but it won't be quite as obvious to the end user.

 

For me the big differentiator between the systems is still the services that sit behind the console. Microsoft have made an obvious move towards being an entertainment centre, whilst Sony are very happily pushing out their message that their console is games-centric. For me, I buy the console that I buy to play games, and it's the services behind the gaming side that have really driven me to my console of choice for this generation. I don't think I'm being too controversial here by saying that XBox Live is far and away the better service when compared to Playstation network. The multiplayer feels more natural and runs better, cross-game party chat is the norm (seriously Sony, this is not a next-gen feature - it's been there for years on your biggest rivals platform), and the promise of what the Microsoft Cloud is already doing, and what it will do in the future, is enough to convince me that I'm on the right platform for gaming. At the end of the day, it's not all about graphics, it's about the experience behind the polish of the game, and the services play a massive part in that.

 

So where does this leave us? Healthy sales in both camps can only be good for gaming as a whole. Yes Sony have the headstart at the moment, but both consoles are selling well and healthy competition is what the industry needs. For me, I'm happy I've made the right choice with where I spent my money. The next 12 months are going to be interesting in terms of how the platforms sell as various exclusives come along (I expect Titanfall to start shifting consoles and closing the gap). For now lets just put all the fanboyism to one side, pick up our controllers, and revel in what is truly a golden age for gaming...

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